It’s December, 2015, the second of the month, to be exact, and it’s time again for my contribution to Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group, a forum of bloggers who share their fears, hopes, dreams, and ideas for the benefit of the writing community. You can see a list of them here, as well as throw your own hat into the ring and share your pearls of wisdom.
This is the last post of the year and, sadly for me, my last contribution to the group. I find that running two blogs, reviewing 3 – 4 books per week, trying to write my own books, and teaching three courses at local colleges—just to list my main activities—takes up more time than I’d anticipated. In addition, I’m not sure I have anything else to share that’s really new.
I thought for my last post in the group, I’d talk about the things I’ve gained from being a part of IWSG for the past many months. That’s right; this has been more of a learning exercise for me—I’ve gained much, much more than I’ve given.
I’ve learned that, while writing is essentially a solitary activity, thanks to social media, blogs, and the Internet, a writer doesn’t have to be totally alone. I’ve gained many friends over the past three years, many of them writers, and I’ve learned something valuable from each of them.
Reading the blogs by other members of the group I’ve improved my own writing. Hints on how to develop characters, or to develop meaningful character names, a great post by Jody Hedlund. There were a lot of inspirational posts, like Rachel Shieffelbein’s advice on not quitting when the going gets hard.
There were more, so many more that there’s not enough space here to mention them all. At this writing there were 255 bloggers participating in the Insecure Writer Support Group monthly posting. That’s a lot of potential sources of advice and inspiration. I know—I’ve been inspired and gotten tons of advice over the months. I’ll keep dropping in from time to time, because I know there’s always something new to learn.
In the meantime, my parting piece of advice to all you writers and wannabe writers out there—stop threatening to write, stop procrastinating. Listen to Rachel Shieffelbein; sit yourself down and put fingers to keyboard and WRITE.
Happy holidays to all my regular readers, and a happy successful year ahead. Keep reading, keep writing.
Following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of the third book in the Pip of Pandara fantasy series. Appreciate reader comments.
* * *
Pip sat at the large wooden desk, staring down at the pile of documents overflowing its top. He shook his head, and then bowed it, cupping his hands to either side, fingers entwined in his flame red hair.
“This is not how it was supposed to be,” he said to himself. “A soldier is not supposed to have to battle stacks of paper.”
Through slitted eyes he stared down at the unruly parchments piled there, silently swearing that they seemed to have grown in number in the few minutes he’d been staring at them. There were supply requests from the quartermaster’s office with Tamara’s untidy scrawl at the bottom of each. Tamara, a fairy of wood and water, did double duty as chief of the quartermaster unit and chief trainer for scouting and reconnaissance. It was the second duty that she much preferred, but her ability with figures had forced Pip to give her the additional duty of keeping track of the many supplies needed to keep his small army feed, clothed and equipped. The volume of requests from her office, though, was her way of getting back at him for the odious office duty which she hated, a fact that she reminded him of each time they met. Beneath that was a smaller pile of documents, mainly from his two regimental commanders, Godfred and Melchor, informing him of their training schedules, plans for recruitment to fill the ranks, and notifications of disciplinary actions—thankfully, there were only a few of these—mostly for minor infractions.
That each of his subordinate chiefs felt it necessary for him to see so much paper was for Pip a constant source of frustration.
What he really ached to do was be out in the field, working with the still green soldiers of Pandara’s national army. No, he reminded himself; fully a third of the ranks were filled by beings from the Land of Fire, making it a combined Pandaran-Land of Fire force. He had yet to think of an appropriate name, so everyone kept the name, National Army of Pandara, shortened to NAP by the soldiers and officers alike. That name would have to go, he thought. He did not want to lead a force called NAP, it sounded too much like a band of vacationers whose aim was to find a place to . . . take a nap. But, try as he might, he’d been unable to think of a more suitable designation.
He felt the beginning of a headache, a dull throbbing at his temples that always came when he wrestled with naming the army. Oh well, that’ll have to be a task for another day. He took the quill pen from its ivory holder, dipped it in the inkwell until the tip was black, and quickly scribbled his name at the bottom of each document. When he’d signed the final document, he stacked them neatly to the left side of his desk. After putting the pen back in its holder, he leaned back and sighed deeply.
A few moments later he sat upright. “Norbert,” he called. “Norbert.”
His aide-de-camp, Norbert, rushed into the office.
“Yes, your highness,” he said. “What do you require?”
Pip looked up at the young soldier. The gold star on his collar, signifying his recent promotion to lieutenant, reflected the light from the lamp on Pip’s desk.
“What I require, Norbert, is for you to call me commander, not your highness. We are in the army here, not the throne room. Here I am the commander.”
“B-but, your high-, er commander, you are the heir to the throne, second only to her majesty, Queen Daphne. It hardly seems appropriate for me not to–”
Pip waved his hand in a choppy motion, causing the young man to stop mid-sentence with his mouth hanging open.
“That is an order, Lieutenant. We will follow military discipline in this army. Am I clear?”
Norbert’s back straightened and he threw his shoulders back.
“Aye, sir, commander, sir,” he said.
“Good,” Pip said. He smiled. “Now, I want you to take this forsaken paperwork from my desk and return it to the authors. I am going to my quarters to have a few words with Lady Zohra, and after that you and I will go on an inspection of the army, so get our horses ready.”
“Aye, commander.” Norbert beamed a broad smile as he gathered the papers. “Should I bring the mounts to your quarters?”
“No, I’ll meet you at the stables.”
Norbert clicked his heels and bowed his head slightly. Pip would have preferred a salute, but the man was holding the documents against his chest with both hands.
“Aye, commander, I will wait for you at the stable.”
Pip rose as Norbert marched smartly out. He could not restrain a smile, thinking that young Norbert just a short time before had been a farm boy, new to the army, when Pip had taken him on the mission against the evil tyrant Tenkuk in Barbaria. The lad had acquitted himself well in that operation, and upon his return, Pip had made him his aide, recently promoting him to a rank befitting the aide-de-camp of the army commander.
Pip adjusted his tunic as he walked toward the door. At the door, he took his sword from the rack and belted it around his waist. Chuckling, he exited his office. Zohra, he knew, would chide him for wearing it when he visited her in her chambers, but he didn’t want to take the time to return to his office for it before joining Norbert at the stable.
As he’d guessed, his wife’s eyes went directly to the sword at his waist when he entered the bedchamber.
“So, now that I’m heavy with child, my husband finds it necessary to arm himself before approaching me,” she said wryly. “Am I truly that unattractive?”
Pip pulled up short, his mouth agape. For a few heartbeats he was at a loss for words. Unattractive? His Zohra? Far from it. He’d found that as her belly grew rounder with the life she carried inside her body, she seemed to become radiant, that he desired her even more. When he gazed upon her face, his breathing stopped, and his heart beat so fiercely he feared it would burst from his chest.
“No, my dearest wife,” he said when he could at last find his voice. “You are without doubt the most beautiful woman in all of Pandara; nay, the most beautiful in the entire known and unknown universe.”
Zohra, now in her sixth month of pregnancy, lowered her gaze. Her cheeks darkened. She could not stifle the smile that turned her carmine lips upward. But, Zohra of Avia, of the Eagle Clan, was not one to let her victim off easily.
I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to blog awards–too busy blogging, book reviewing, and writing–but, I have to stop and say thanks to Anatomy of Perceval for One Lovely Blog Award. I’m really not sure what I did to deserve it, but it’s always nice to learn that there are actually people out there who read what I write.
So, having that out of the way, I’ll follow the rules for this award.
7 Interesting Facts About Myself
I’ve been writing since I was about 12 or 13 – got my first short story published in a national magazine back then.
I have a short attention span, and get bored easily, so I write and read in a lot of genres.
My first full-length work of fiction took eight years to write–but, now I finish a book of 60,000 words in about a month.
I was a paratrooper in the army, but I’m afraid of heights. I can’t stand on the edge of a three-story balcony without getting dizzy.
I like animals, but am allergic to cats.
Because of a childhood accident that damaged my eye nerves, I don’t have binocular vision. But, it was undiagnosed until I was nearly 20, so I’d learned to compensate–including playing baseball and shooting expert with a rifle in basic training when I joined the army at 17. Go figure.
I love to travel, but I hate flying.
Blogs I’m nominating
These are bloggers I follow, even though I don’t visit them as often as I probably should. When I do, though, I always find something to make my day. Not everyone has the time to respond to these awards, and I’ll certainly understand if they fall into that category, but I just had to express my appreciation for the great writing they do.
Rules for the Award
In conclusion, to all my blogger nominees, here is the list of rules to participate:
- Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to her/his blog.
- List 7 interesting facts about yourself.
- Nominate 15 other bloggers and inform them by posting on their site.
- List the rules and display the award.
As usual, her voice came out husky and choked when she tried to speak to him. “I’ll see you first thing Monday morning. Promise. But I can’t talk about this now.” She motioned to Emily, and Evan nodded but didn’t move. Jeez, he was so close.
They made small talk, and Paige actually found herself flirting with him a little, relaxing, while the line moved at a snail’s pace to the haunted house. She found out Travis was a neighbor whose parents traveled a lot. Evan also told her things she already knew: he had a brother in the Marines, his parents had retired to Montana to raise horses, lots of superficial stuff. She told him about her father taking her to haunted houses when she was a kid while her scaredy cat sister had stayed home with Mom. She mentioned her parents were dead, but didn’t give the details.
She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Dressed casually, he reminded her of the first time they’d met. He wore a black t-shirt and worn jeans along with the oldest pair of Converse she’d ever seen. His hair was mussed, as if he’d spent a long day at work, running his hands through it like a crazed man. With her constant avoidance of him, he probably had. A pang of remorse hit her hard. She hadn’t made this easy for him. It was time for her to step up and take responsibility. She’d hired him to do a job, and she needed to get over her school-girl crush and help him.
But it was really hard with him staring at her like that.
She could always blame the teenagers for her inappropriate thoughts. They were walking, talking, flirting hormones on legs. By the time they’d made it to the door, Travis had Emily’s phone number and they’d already made a date and were holding hands. She was positive that if she and Evan hadn’t been there they’d be making out. The teenagers that is, not them. Even though she’d relaxed quite a bit, her heart was still letting her know he was standing awfully close to her.
They went in like a train, with Travis volunteering to lead. Emily hung on to his belt loops followed by Paige. Bringing up the rear, one of Evan’s hands dropped protectively to her back. She ignored the warmth trickling through her t-shirt at the contact. Her heart pounded and her hands were clammy, but it wasn’t because of the fog, or the spooky lighting, or the clanging noises, or the zombies jumping out. It was all Evan Rocco, holding onto her.
As far as haunted houses went, this one was disappointing, or maybe she just couldn’t get into it with Evan’s breath on her neck, his hand at her waist, or his other hand snaking around her torso. The further inside they went, the closer they got. Travis was at the front of the line, jumping with every zombie clown that popped out, giving her ample warning of spooky things ahead. By the halfway point, Evan’s arms were around her torso, with her own hands clutching him while they walked in sync together, his hot breath on her neck warming her insides
At one particularly dark corner, Evan yanked her backward into an alcove, pushing her into the darkness. He leaned his forehead on hers while his forearms leaned on the wall on either side of her head, caging her in, keeping her from bolting.
“You have any idea how many times I’ve thought of this since April?” His body crowded her into the tiny, dark space while his minty breath sent her senses reeling.
“Haunted houses?” she offered weakly before his mouth met hers.
It was suddenly as if the puzzle piece she lost six months ago had been put back into place, and she melted into him as his tongue triumphed over the recesses of her mouth. He growled, a predatory rumble emanating from his chest that reminded her of that night last April, and she whimpered against him as he hauled her into his embrace, wrapping his arms around her tightly.
His tongue danced with hers, twining around inside her mouth while his hands roamed her body, cupping her ass. She twirled her fingers in his hair, bringing his mouth closer, fusing it with hers, unwilling to break this kiss which was rapidly undoing her—mind, body, and soul.
As her fingertips clutched desperately at his biceps, she marveled at how someone who was every bit as geeky as she was could be so fucking beautiful, because Evan Rocco was a seriously beautiful man. And this kiss was feral, something wild, causing her to throw caution to the wind and go with it for as long as it lasted.
Evan broke the kiss, leaning his forehead on hers again, his dark brown eyes consuming her. “Paige,” he breathed out ragged gulps of air. “What the fuck is happening?”
I read and review a lot of books. Most of them I love, some I like — and some, well, I don’t like so much. I try always to give them as objective a review as possible. As an author, I know the importance of reviews to the visibility—and ultimately sales—of an author’s work.
Different people have different views of reviewing. I know some reviewers, for instance, who will not publish a review unless they can give it four or five stars. Others seem to delight in giving one and two-star reviews. Personally, if I can’t give a book at least three stars I will usually not review it. Some people view a three-star review as negative. I think that’s a mistaken view. It’s not over the moon, sure, but a three star review is saying that a book is acceptable, but it contains a few issues (typos, grammar, formatting, etc.) that detract from the reading experience.
As a writer I know how it feels to get a bad review, but I don’t think of the three-star reviews I get as negative. I take them as teaching moments. They’re telling me that I’ve written a so-so book that could have been better. If a book is on the verge of being great, but has two or three typos or grammatical errors, I’ll give it four stars. Five stars only go to books that wow me and have no issues. That’s the criteria used by Awesome Indies Readers and Reviewers which I apply not only to my reviews, but that I use when I’m doing the re-read and edit of my own work.
So, a piece of advice to young writers—especially those putting out their first book—that will help in the process of maturing as a writer: don’t let a three-star review send you into a fit of depression. Read it carefully and see what you can learn from it. Even after you’ve gained some experience as a writer, don’t expect to get all four and five-star reviews. Not everything you write will appeal to everyone. No problem. Just keep writing. Resolve to do better with each book, and let the stars fall where they may.
Practically everyone is blogging these days. Blogs range from amateurish efforts at self-expression to fairly professional how-to and advice blogs that actually add value to our lives. The 15 Success Traits of Pro Bloggers: A Proven Roadmap to Becoming a Full-time Blogger by Jonathan Milligan peels back the curtain of full-time professional blogging for anyone who is interested in taking blogging to the next level.
While Milligan doesn’t claim that his roadmap is an absolute guarantee of success, he does offer practical advice that will improve your blogging, whether or not your goal is to make a living from blogging. As with all self-help books, this one must be read with an open, but relatively skeptical mind, remaining aware that not all of the steps work for everyone. That said, the benefits of blogging, and the debunking of many of the myths about blogging are useful for any writer. In fact, one can use many of Milligan’s ideas in any kind of writing endeavor.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. I found it to be well-written, not overdone in the hype department, and useful for any reader who wants to communicate better. I don’t entirely agree with the ‘proven’ in the subtitle – nothing is ever 100% – but, the hints, advice, and traits outlined in this book are valid. If you’re contemplating going into blogging full-time, this is probably a reference you want to keep handy. I give it four stars.
For my second Insecure Writer’s Support Group offering of 2015, I wax a bit philosophical about writing. This is also, by the way, the second year of my participation in Alec Cavanaugh’s blogging effort. Comments are welcome, and if you have anything to contribute, check the IWSG link and sign up.
When I worked in Zimbabwe (2009 – 2012) I wrote occasional opinion pieces that appeared in the independent press which was opposed to the government. Some of the more popular of those pieces were put together in a little book which was provided to schools and youth groups. The book, Where You Come From Matters Less Than Where You’re Going, was quite popular, but aroused the ire of the government even more than the original editorials had, generating weeks of back and forth over, of all things, the title. I defended the title, while the government’s propagandists attacked it vigorously. Looking back, I now realize that a better title might have been The Journey is More Important than the Destination.
I mention that episode as a digression of sorts to introduce a topic that I’ve been thinking about lately – is it more important to write, or to have written? Now, working on book number 52 that might seem like an academic or even moot question for me, but it’s not. The question ‘do I want to be known as a person who writes, or as a person who has written?’ is still a valid one. It’s in fact a question that every writer should ask – and answer.
I think I know the answer for myself. After I’ve finished writing something, except for the unavoidable marketing once it’s published, I pretty much forget about it because I’m already working on the next; and sometimes thinking about the one after that. Having written is nice, but what really drives me is the desire to write, write, write. I wake up in the morning thinking about writing. I go to sleep at night thinking about writing. Most of the hours in between are about writing. Sometimes I even dream about writing.
You see, having written is a destination. Once you’ve arrived, where do you go next, if that was your focus? Writing, though, is a journey; one that is always fascinating to me because I never know what I’ll encounter in that next sentence, paragraph, or page.
So, stop a moment and ask yourself the question: which is more important to me, writing or having written? Answer it honestly. Then, you’ll know if you’re really a writer.
Happy New Year, and welcome to 2015. I think this year will be an interesting one for writers. I imagine most of you have made your resolutions for the year, and I hope, if you’re one of those people who have always been threatening to write a book, finally doing it this year will be one of your resolutions.
This is my first post of the year for Alec Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group, a dedicated group of bloggers who offer advice, hints, or just anecdotes about the writing life on the first Wednesday of each month. Another of your resolutions should be to consider adding your voice.
For now, though, to my topic of the month, how to get that book written. Here are the steps I follow. This is not the only way, but I offer it for your consideration.
- Outline your book. I’m assuming here that you already know what you want to write about. Whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, having a rough outline will help you develop a coherent structure. Like me, you might not be a person who works from a detailed outline – and, that’s okay. I rough out the number of chapters and briefly describe what happens in each. As I write, I often make changes (add or subtract chapters, move action from one chapter to another, etc.). This is much easier to do if you have it written down than if you’re trying to keep it all in your mind. This is also the point when I develop character lists (names, biographies, etc.), locales, time frames, key events, etc.
- Do your research. Before you start writing, research the information you want to include in your book. You’ll want to dig up more information than you’ll actually use, but don’t get so involved in research you neglect to do the thing that’s most important – write the darn book.
- Develop a writing schedule. Many would-be writers shy away from tackling book length projects because they feel incapable of creating something so vast as a 60,000 word-plus book. If you make a schedule – say, plan to write 1,500 to 2,000 words a day, it is suddenly not so gargantuan. After all, that’s the equivalent of a magazine article a day, and if you write 2,000 words per day you can complete the project in 30 days. That’s right; you can write a full-length book in a month.
- Write it. When you’ve completed steps 1 – 4, the only thing left to do is write. When you begin, let the creative juices flow. Don’t try to edit or proofread as you write. Get the story down on the page – or on the screen. You’ll want to take some time writing that first chapter. That’s the one that most often determines whether or not readers will keep reading. Take some time to get it right. While writing that first chapter, give a lot of thought to the two most important parts – the first sentence and the last. It’s a good practice to end each writing day by writing the first sentence or two, or even a paragraph, of the following chapter. This helps keep you on track when you pick up the following day.
- After you’re finished writing, let it cool, then edit rigorously. When you write that last sentence, put the book away for a few days. Take walks, start making notes of your next project, grab a camera and take pictures – anything to take your mind off the book you just finished writing. Then, after a few days, go back to page one and read it line-by-line, word-by-word for typos, grammatical errors, or formatting glitches, correcting as you go. When that’s done, go back and read it again for plot, flow, dialogue, and the other things that you look for in a good book.
If this sounds simple, it actually is, and the more you do it, the less intimidating writing a book becomes. It’s said that each of us has a novel inside. Some of us have more than one – and maybe a nonfiction book or two as well. These five simple steps can help you get them out where they belong, in the hands of readers.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.
The Washington Monument is an iconic landmark of our nation’s capital. After an earthquake that struck the east coast caused damage to the structure, it wore a girder skirt for several months.
Here we are, the first Wednesday of the month, and time for another contribution to Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Group. If you’d like to share your thoughts, hints, or fears about writing, go here to join in. This week, I’d like to share my thoughts about a fear that can be turned to the advantage of every writer seeking to more widely promote his or her work – the fear of public speaking.
Most people have an almost irrational fear of speaking before an audience – many fear that more than death. But, for a way to get your writing known by a wider audience, using public speaking opportunities is one that should not be ignored.
I have, like many, had a fear of making public speeches. When I was a teenager, during my freshman year in high school, I would get tongue-tied and absolutely panicky at the prospect of getting up in front of a group and talking. Luckily, I had a freshman home room teacher who recognized the fear and had a way to help me overcome it. During the early weeks of the semester, she would make me stand in front of the classroom until I said something – anything. Her shock therapy worked. After a few weeks, I found it possible to speak without stuttering, and after I said something funny one morning and cracked the whole room up, my fear was mostly conquered. I’m now a regular on the podium, speaking on a range of topics with which I’m familiar. I still get the occasional attack of nerves, but once I start interacting with an audience, the jitters disappear.
Enough background – what you want to know is how I use these occasions to promote my books. It’s really simple, and it has worked well for me.
First, I always take a good supply of my business cards to events. My cards contain links to my blogs and to my Amazon author page which contains ‘buy’ links for all my books. I also take along a few copies of books – preferably, but not always, related to the subject of my speech. I place them where they can be easily seen by the audience, and during breaks and at the conclusion of my remarks, I’m always asked about them by two or three attendees. As we discuss them, I hand out cards. After each such event, I’ve noticed an uptick in my sales – and, not just the books on display, but others as well. After one speech on ethics at the Army Command and General Staff College, for instance, where I had copies of my Buffalo Soldier western/historical series (appropriate to the venue since the Buffalo Soldier memorial is there), sales of one of the books in the series jumped to 800 for the month, and each other volume in the series had increases from 2 – 3 copies to over 20 each. In addition, the staff college foundation magazine did a feature on me and my books, which still generates sales of that series.
At a speaking engagement at Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, I got into a conversation on writing during a break in the session, and several people asked for my card or for links to my books online. Again, that month I had an uptick in sales.
Contrary to some cynics, word of mouth is an effective way to sell books, and one of the most effective mouths to start that process rolling is your own. Public speaking shouldn’t be scary. When you stand before an audience – hopefully, talking about a subject with which you’re familiar – you can and should be in control of the situation. Like any other skill, it improves with practice. So, get over that fear of public speaking, and get out there and sell your books!
When I’m asked how long I’ve been writing, I can say truthfully, most of my life. I was taught to read at the age of four, and by the time I was in third grade had devoured most of the books in the meager collection in my school’s library. I remember being most struck by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the worlds they created between the covers of the musty old books high up on the shelves.
By the time I was in fifth grade, I was making up stories of my own. In my freshman year of high school, when I was thirteen, I entered a Sunday school magazine short story writing contest. Surprise of surprises, I won first place, and it was a national competition. The fact that I was competing with other ten to fifteen year-olds is irrelevant – my name appeared in a national publication above something I’d created. I don’t remember what the prize was – probably just the byline and copies of the magazine – but, I was hooked. I wanted to create more stories, and share them with more people.
From the beginning that was my goal; to share the stories swirling around in my mind with others.
It wasn’t until I’d graduated from high school and joined the army that the idea of actually making money from writing occurred to me. I wrote poems, articles and short stories for publications for free. Then, I submitted an article to a magazine and along with the acceptance letter got a check – I think it was the princely sum of $10.00, which was a lot of money in the 1970s when most publications paid less than fifty cents a word.
Over the decades since, I’ve continued to write articles, short stories, book reviews, and since the mid-2000s full length works. Writing doesn’t pay the bills – it never has, and the odds are it never will. I’m fortunate in having served as a federal official long enough to qualify for a pension that, along with my investments and writing income, provides me with a comfortable living. The number of authors who make a good living from writing, compared to the total number of authors in existence, is a miniscule percentage.
It’s always been that way. There are some people who write books mainly for the money – most of them writing books on ‘how to make money writing.’ I’m convinced, though, that those of us who write fiction, don’t do it for the money. We do it because we love writing. Because we have these stories in our brains, straining to get out and be shared. If we just happen to get lucky and are able to grab the brass ring of ‘best-sellerdom,’ that’s a bonus. I’d be willing to bet that even if Stephen King hadn’t attained mega-stardom with his books, he’d still be writing. I know that’s why I continue to write.
Can writing be a career? It depends upon how you define career. Even though writing doesn’t provide the bulk of my income, I have no problem introducing myself as a writer when I meet people. With 40+ independently published books to my credit, and hundreds of clip sheets of published articles and book reviews, I think I can call writing something other than a hobby.
If writing is your career goal, there are a number of preparatory steps I strongly suggest. Get yourself a good style book and learn the rules of good writing – grammar, punctuation, and word usage. Now that you’ve done that, the next step is simple – sit down and write what’s in your mind, and if necessary, break the rules you just spent all that time learning. But, break them with a purpose. You’ll, of course, need some other source of legal income while you hone your skills – many writers before you have had to do the same. But, never despair. If your lot in life is to be a writer, you’ll know it. You’ll know it because no matter what, the urge to write will be there like that itch between your shoulder blades that you just can’t seem to reach. Most importantly, write, write, and write some more. Write something every single day. I once worked for an old newspaper editor in North Carolina who suggested that I write at least 1,000 words a day as a way of improving my writing skills. I’ve followed that advice, with my own shot of steroids; I now write about 2,000 words a day. Character sketches, plot outlines, research notes all count against that daily quota. When I’m on the road I take along an old steno pad or two, in which I write. I write on planes, in hotel rooms, and in the back of taxis.
That might not be the best way to become a writer, but it works for me.
For another perspective on writing, check out An Ode to Novel Writers at Webucator.com.
It’s time once again for my contribution to Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group, where bloggers weigh in on issues relating to writing – problems or advice on how to improve your writing. If you’re interested in being a part of this select group, go here to join. This month I’d like to talk about voice in writing.
One of the most difficult things for beginning writers of fiction – or any other type of writing for that matter – is finding their unique voice. Writing guides and advice books pour out reams of advice on this aspect of writing. The problem is that most never clearly define what they mean by voice.
After decades of pounding out millions of words, I must confess that I remain in something of a fog myself on this problematic aspect of the writing craft – or art, depending upon your point of view.
My fog, though, is not so dense that I don’t have a vague idea of what is meant by voice in fiction, so I’ll add to the pool of thought on the issue.
Looking at my own writing over time, I’ve come to realize that any work of fiction has multiple voices. First, there’s the individual writer’s voice; the unique way a writer expresses him or herself. It is the author’s style or unique way of expressing personality, character or attitude. It is shown in the choice of words, how sentences or paragraphs are structured that conveys that individual’s uniqueness.
Of equal importance is the voice of the characters in the story. It is the speech and thought patterns, or persona, of a first-person narrator, or the speech patterns and mannerisms of characters in third-person POV. Careful selection and differentiation of speech patterns of characters makes it easier for readers to identify individual characters even in the absence of tags or descriptions, which can help the flow of your writing.
Finding Your Voices
The best way to find your own voice in your writing is to let it find you. Know your story and where you want it to go – what impression you want it to make on a reader, and then write the words you hear in your mind as you mentally map out the story. What word selections or sentence structures do you find natural when you write? Let them flow and your voice will emerge. What do you want your reader to feel or think about your writing? Select the words and sentences that convey that. That is you communicating to your reader in your unique voice.
As for character voices, what image of the character do you want the reader to have? Chose words and mannerisms that convey that image, being careful not to have every character act or speak in the same way. Presto! Your character’s voice will emerge, and the character will come alive for the reader.
You’ll notice I haven’t made any specific suggestions – short versus long sentences, long versus short paragraphs, colorful metaphors, etc. For your own voice, pick the ones that are you, and for your characters, pick the ones that convey the image you want the reader to have.
Finding an appropriate voice in writing is like learning to ride a bike. You keep getting back up and pedaling every time you fall down, and one day you’ll discover that you’re no longer falling.
You will have found that elusive voice.
I was pleased recently to be one of the winners of an Apex Hotel rubber duck in UK author Carol Wyer’s giveaway. It just arrived today, and I did a few photos of the bright blue critter with some of the other duck and swan statues I own.
It’s that time again, the monthly posting for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group, where we talk about a host of things, from problems to solutions. If you’re interested in participating, go here to join. My post this month is on dealing with not just negative reviews, but those that are mindless, pointless, vapid outpourings of people who probably haven’t even read your book. Read on. Comment if you care to.
If you publish what you write, you put your work out there for all to see – and comment upon. We all would like to get all five-star reviews that wax eloquent about our deathless prose and fantastic story-telling ability. But, not everyone will like what you write, so you have to be prepared for the occasional negative review. If you’re smart, you’ll not respond to such reviews, but you will take note of them, for they might just give you advice that could improve your future efforts.
There’s one category of review, though, that is negative, and doesn’t help you at all. That’s the review that mindlessly slams your writing – often for the most vapid of reasons. The ease of posting comments (including reviews) on the Internet makes this one of the unavoidable facets of the writing life. How do you deal with it?
How, for instance, do you deal with a one-sentence, one-star review that doesn’t even talk about your book? I recently received one of those, and after I stopped fuming, I laughed. The review said nothing about my book, so I don’t know if the reviewer even read it. It was, however, a verified purchase, so, unless this person returns it for a refund, I at least get paid for it. As useless as it was, it also put the title out there for others to notice, and I can only hope that more rational readers will see the review for what it is – or isn’t – and maybe be curious enough to get the book for themselves and form their own opinions.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep on writing; keep putting my stuff out there; and hope for the best. Or, if not the best, at least more fair and legitimate reviews that help guide other readers to my work. Have any readers who are also writers received reviews that make no sense? Share your ‘worst’ review of this type in the comments below